First, a 'Violent' Eruption. Then, 'Darkness Blanketing the Sky'

Undersea volcano erupts near Tonga, waves crash to shore amid tsunami warning
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 15, 2022 6:00 AM CST
First, a 'Violent' Eruption. Then, 'Darkness Blanketing the Sky'
This satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite, and released by the agency, shows an undersea volcano eruption near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday.   (Japan Meteorology Agency via AP)

An undersea volcano erupted in spectacular fashion near the Pacific nation of Tonga on Saturday, sending large waves crashing across the shore and people rushing to higher ground. There were no immediate reports of injuries or the extent of the damage as communications with the small nation, home to about 105,000 people, remained problematic. Video posted to social media showed large waves washing ashore in coastal areas, swirling around homes and buildings. New Zealand's military said it was monitoring the situation and remained on standby, ready to assist if asked, per the AP. The volcano is located about 40 miles north of the capital, Nuku'alofa.

Satellite images showed a huge eruption, a plume of ash, steam, and gas captured from space rising like a mushroom above the blue Pacific waters. The Tonga Meteorological Services said a tsunami warning was in effect for all of the archipelago, and data from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center showed waves of up to 2.6 feet had been detected. Authorities in the nearby island nations of Fiji and Samoa also issued warnings, telling people to avoid the shoreline due to strong currents and dangerous waves. The Japan Meteorological Agency said there may be a slight swelling of the water along the Japanese coasts, but it's not expected to cause any damage.

The Islands Business news site reported that a convoy of police and military troops evacuated Tonga's King Tupou VI from his palace near the shore. He was among the many residents who headed for higher ground. The explosion of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano was the latest in a series of spectacular eruptions. A Twitter user identified as Dr. Faka'iloatonga Taumoefolau posted video showing waves crashing ashore. "Can literally hear the volcano eruption, sounds pretty violent," he wrote, adding in a later post: "Raining ash and tiny pebbles, darkness blanketing the sky."

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Earlier, the Matangi Tonga news site reported that scientists observed massive explosions, thunder, and lightning near the volcano after it started erupting early Friday. Satellite images showed a 3-mile-wide plume rising into the air to about 12 miles. More than 1,400 miles away in New Zealand, officials were warning of storm surges from the eruption. Late Saturday, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the threat to American Samoa appeared to have passed, although minor sea fluctuations could continue.

(More Tonga stories.)

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